The World Needs More Poutine

Posted on October 28, 2015


“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Anne of Green Gables

I don’t care what that old poet said, October is the cruelest month, because here in Washington,  October brings 4 species of salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout, and steelhead into the rivers.  The native trout feel the hunger of winter weighing upon them, especially in  the high mountain lakes.  And every year, my October bucket list grows and my fishing days diminish. That nearby lake with the grueling climb for spawning lake trout. The fabled October caddis hatches. The mountain lake where I once caught 33 fish on 50 casts and have never returned to. The pink runs you can hit after work, the beaches where the silvers come to poppers, the Tieton before they open the dam, and all the rivers that close on the 31st. Anything in BC. Etc.

This year, I have many reasons not to fish: a new job, my own business which desperately needs my attention on weekends, and a remodel I’m trying to fit in between. But I decided that if I didn’t start trimming my bucket list plans would become dreams and dreams would become regrets, and we all have enough of those. Maybe it’s a measure of how little I get to fish or how unfit that I am for the corporate world that every fishing trip feels like a spiritual quest to me.Part of it is that the rivers run with memories, especially this time of year when my mind turns to home.


One of the things on my list was a mythical run of SRCs I had overheard in a conversation on the beach.  A run that Les Johnson had discovered. While I know Les only a little, I admire him a lot, and I share his love of the searuns. And so I got out maps and I listened a little and asked just a bit and one day I got an IM from a friend who said: Go here, turn there, look for this. Which of course I  did not deserve, but I was was not going to ignore. Because here is the thing: if you are going to have a 50-fish day in Western Washington, it’s going to be on SRC, on October Caddis, up some run nobody else knows about or fishes. As rare as wild trout are, this is a true quest. Searun cutthroats are the one near-win in the WDFW’s feeble attempts to prevent extinction of an anadromous species. After decades of catch-and-release in the ocean, we are finally seeing more and larger fish in both the ocean and in the rivers. Why they don’t continue the moratorium on harvest once the fish return to the rivers, however, is one of those vast mysteries right up there with missing socks in the laundry.

So one Saturday I worked until 6:30, ran home and stashed my gear in the car by 7, then drove until by some miracle I was at a hotel near the river by 9:30. I was a little disappointed to find the town buttoned tighter than a Victorian corset, the one brewery I knew is now a bar showing 50 First Dates at one end and Moto GP at the other. Since my professional life is pretty much modeled after 50 First Dates, I settled for the GP and a pint, then went back to the motel where I watched the worst Rutger Hauer/Sylvester Stalone vehicle I’ve seen yet and hoped the traffic would become white noise to help me sleep. Somewhere in the night I awoke to a familiar voice and it was The Gambler,  one of the people I’d heli-skied with in days gone by, narrating ski porn. I watched that and reminisced until sleep found me again.


I got up, had the worst possible breakfast at Safeway, although somewhat salvaged by  grabbing the season’s first 6-pack of Jubelale ,  and headed west. None of the presets on the dial worked this far from Seattle, so I hit SEEK, expecting the typical bucolic choices of country or bible, but was surprised a the number of Canadian channels coming in from across the border. At this hour, most of them were playing music that sounded like Junior High School dance bands, but I was charmed by the commercial that started “The world needs more poutine.” Of course it does.  Even though I got friends that don’t even know what that means, I, for one, could certainly have used some at that moment.

After an unspecified amount of time, I saw the designated forest road sign, and up I went. Scouting new water in short time is always a challenge. I like to go as far upstream as I can, noting likely spots along the way and then trying to hit them on the way down.  After going up hill for a long time without seeing any water I retraced my tracks to the last bridge and put in.

I’d been feeling off since Friday, and definitely not sharp this morning. I was stumbly and tired. The river here ran on a pure rock bed, with only a few stones, and I stumbled down it like a giraffe on roller skates. I came loaded with October Caddis and a dry line, but it was cold and early and I didn’t see a single shuck in the river. So I started skating mudders. Here, the river ran through a series of small, deep canyons, settling in still pools without seams. While I’ve read that these pools are full of fish, and I always fish them like I believe the reports, I’ve never, ever pulled a fish out of a deep pool. I was switching to my trusty sinking line, when I noticed some small sips across the pool. I couldn’t tell if these were smolts or full-sized fish – I’ve seen full-grown SRCs feeding in the film without leaving so much as a ring. So I switched back to a floating line and started drifting orange stimulators in their direction. Sure enough, a 3″ smolt splashed on the fly. Yet, I took this as a good sign as searuns often return to their home waters and behaviors. So I went back to my full sink, added a white wet fly with a tungsten head and started working the tail out.


On my last cast I let the fly swing into the last absolute few inches of water and then started to reel it in, debating whether to rework the run or continue to the next. As so often happens, I got hit. I got hit so hard I thought I’d hooked the bottom.  You know that feeling. Of course it only took me a moment to realize I had a fish on. I thanked my 3x tippet and worked it in as quickly as possible. This was definitely the nicest searun I’d caught in a river or on a beach.  I took the quick picture, removed the devastated fly from the fish and worked downstream. The river hit a wall at the bottom of the next run and turned 45 degrees. Something in my mind said “purple leech.” When I opened my wallet, though, a black Spring Creek Special caught my eye. Once again, I started to work the whole pool like I always do, although I expected nothing before the tailout. At the very head, on the far side of the white tongue of water entering the pool, there was a small cusp in the wall. A point stuck out a few inches creating an infinitesimal bucket below it. I fired the leech, and my first cast fell just short, so I picked it up immediately off the water and refired. This one went a big long, hitting the wall about 3′ up. Before it fell even a foot a fish came out of the water and nailed it in the air. It created such a commotion, I was sure I’d hooked a steelhead. It turned out to be a resident cutt, but this fish tail-walked across that pool like a marlin. It fought so long and hard, I just wedged the rod in the rocks and snapped some pictures. Not the largest fish I’d ever caught, but definitely the most motivated, and definitely the largest resident.


I got out, walked back to my car, had that Jubleale and thought some about the last time I was on this river and the friend I was with. It made the day a bit brighter. I hit a few more holes, but by then I was sure I was coming down with something, so I headed home. On the way out, I noticed that there were so many chanterelles opposite the river side of the road, that you could see them from the car! I didn’t get my 50-fish day, but all week at work, though, all I could think about was that river and all of the holes I’d scouted and not fished. I wanted to just hop in my car and return, but I just had to much to do. On Friday, though,  I got another IM: Go here, turn there, look for the blue gate, cross the river…

Posted in: Essays, Fly Fishing